The Cold War and the Grenada Revolution
"What Were Those Commies Up To?"
Editorial Commentary by Ann Wilder
There is the hackneyed saying that you can't escape history. Let this be clear, and don't get me wrong—the reason for the landing of U.S. troops on Grenadian soil was because of the spectre of Communism.
Let us, as the current phrase goes, 'walk the cat backwards.'
In the minds of many people, Grenada was a challenge of the Cold War. The term "cold war' first showed up in 1945 upon the publication of Animal Farm by George Orwell. President Reagan came of age under threat of the "cold war."
Take you way back to the early years, October 1965, of Ronald Reagan's basis for thinking in relation to foreign policy:
It's silly talking about how many years we will have to spend in the jungles of Vietnam
when we could pave the whole country and put parking stripes on it and still be home by Christmas.
Take you back to 17 March 1980 when candidate Ronald Reagan was speaking before the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations. Back then Ronald Reagan mostly wrote his own speeches:
Totalitarian Marxists have control of the island of Grenada in the Caribbean where Cuban advisors are currently training guerrillas for subversive action against other countries like Trinidad and Tobago, its democratic neighbor.
In El Salvador totalitarian Marxist revolutionaries supported by Havana and Moscow are preventing the development of democratic government.
Should we allow Grenada, Nicaragua, and El Salvador to become "new Cubas," new staging grounds for Soviet combat brigades?
Shall we wait to allow Moscow and Havana to push on to the north toward Guatemala and from there to Mexico, and southward toward Costa Rica and Panama.
Read the words of President Ronald Reagan in an address to the nation, 5 May 1984:
"Let us show the world that we want no hostile Communist colonies here in the Americas - South, Central or North."
The focus of the times was on the proximity of threats to U.S. security in the Caribbean Basin, the Americas, Central America, South America, Latin America, Pan America [no name for the region was quite settled upon; much less the boundaries of the region].
A "what if?" kind of fear gripped the hearts of many for these reasons: Castro in Cuba gave sound reason to anticipate the danger to the U.S. of the Cuban partnership with the Soviets; the Sandinista Revolution was holding its own; prime oil shipping lanes and foreign trade routes were threatened by the possibility of interruption because of potential and real armed bases in the area, and aid to leftist/revolutionary regimes would give neighboring nations the wrong idea. Trouble in the region might halt trade through the Panama Canal, could damage the prestige of the United States, and lead the impoverished masses towards revolution, communism and socialism, military dictatorship. Hovering around stated problems was the almost unaddressed immigration situation and the horrific vision of refugees drowning in a sea of sharks.
The U.S. and the Soviets were coming out of the Cold War period. Though we can see that now, we could not see that then.
For those of you who missed the Cold War, and I realize to my chagrin there are more and more of you, below is an overview supporting the point I make of the ever-lingering threat of Communism in the minds of many leaders during the time of Grenadian history from 1970-1984.
Being A Commie
During the period of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, unions and union organizers in the United States became tainted with dishonor as being part of the "Red Terror". An interesting part of history in the United State, being cast as a Commie sympathizer did not get rolling until after World War II.
In 1945, the House Un-American Activities Committee published a booklet. Its title was "100 Things You Should Know About Communism in the U.S.A." This pamphlet asks 100 questions; for example:
"How can a Communist be identified?"
The answer, and I quote:
"It is easy. Ask him to name ten things wrong with the United States. Then ask him to name two things wrong with Russia."
The booklet goes on to comment:
"His answers will show him up even to a child. Communists will denounce the President of the United States but they will never denounce Stalin."
In 1955, it was Rabbi Harold Kushner who referred to his fellow college graduates as "the last generation to trust our elders." Within Kushner's lifetime began the generations of judgmental people so near and dear to us all. It looks like a whole bunch of us could be identified as Communists!
Needless to say, you get the idea of the 100 things you should know about Communism
HUAC's document, among the many others issued at the time by the U.S. Government, set the foundation for my youthful and naive self to be thinking of Communism as some body of evil and out to 'get me' in Middle America.
J. Edgar Hoover
The Big Daddy of it all was J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). In March 1958, Hoover wrote "Masters of Deceit: The Story of Communism in America and How to Fight It."
In "Masters of Deceit," we read not only of the wide variety of occupations in which one would find different types of communists, but also about the -
- Open Party members
- Concealed Party members
- Fellow Travelers
I, for one, did not want to become a dupe.
What is a Communist? The [Original] Duck Test
What is a communist? US Ambassador Patterson spoke about the matter when he made a presentation before a Rotary Club group in Guatemala City, 1950:
"Many times it is impossible to prove legally that a certain individual is a communist; but for cases of this sort I recommend a practical method of detection - the 'duck test.'
The duck test works this way: suppose you see a bird walking around a farm yard. This bird wears no label that says 'duck.'
But the bird certainly looks like a duck.
Also he goes to the pond and you notice that he swims like a duck. Then he opens his beak and quacks like a duck.
Well, by this time you have probably reached the conclusion that the bird is a duck, whether he's wearing a label or not."
There you have it. Or, there you had it, for this was the slippery test used to identify communists in those days.
The word 'communist' made me think that I could be labeled as such, that I was an unwitting victim of an international Godless conspiracy that could move upon my person in mysterious ways. I could be contaminated. Worst of all, I might be a 'dupe'. I was caught up in a sudden fear when I heard or read about such things as secret operatives, spies, agitators and undercover agents.
The word 'communist' was an accusatory epithet for me, and I wasn't even near guilty. The word 'communist' was so powerful as to stop discussion and debate. 'Communist' was a scare word, one used to weed out supposedly un-American citizens of the United States.
During the Presidency of Harry S. Truman, the Supreme Court on 10 April 1950 ruled that citizens, called before a congressional committee, were compelled to state whether or not they "now or ever have been a communist."
An accusation was made by Senator Joseph McCarthy at a Republican Women's Club meeting 9 February 1959 that there were 205 employees in the State Department who were "card-carrying members or certainly loyal to the Communist Party."
"Card-carrying" was the code word with an "out" just in case the "loyal" communist did not have an official card. By the way, in a later speech, McCarthy lowered the number to 57, saying that's what he meant all the time.
Growing Up in Anti-Communist Times
I spent my impressionable and formative years in the Midwest from 1950-1959; the childhood years were previous to that. My neighbors and relatives seemed to have been in allied or armed services during World War II, and were striving to enhance their economic outlook and provide for their families.
Our home saw subscriptions to "Readers Digest" and "Life" magazine, as well as the local newspaper, published with a morning and evening edition. I would read anything that came into the house, including pamphlets by Norman Vincent Peale.
Admittedly, I was, as writer Edmund White so aptly termed it, one of those Midwest "public-library intellectuals, magpies of knowledge . . ." Using the public library, working there and reading books, at least I got lots of extra credit in my public school studies.
Essentially, though, I considered my REAL education an autodidactic exercise where I would learn REAL things, and that information was in books and I got those books in the musty stacks of the main public library.
Not only that, but I had conceived the notion of the importance of information-from-the-source. If such original source material was embarrassing to the author, well too bad. Such spokespeople had hung themselves on their own petard. I didn't feel the need to publicly evaluate people. No, I would plainly put out to the public exactly what they said.
Mass Communications Brings Politics Into the Home
In the 1950s, our family had a television. Not recalling just when we had one in our home, I do know that the first mass-produced televisions were made by Radio Corporation of America (RCA), cost $1,000 and were first issued 25 March 1954. I was a news-hound back then, fed on the Edgar R. Murrow programs. In 1951, Murrow hosted the CBS program "See It Now." We also viewed the House Un-American Activity Hearings.
In the United States, 15 March 1951, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted and sentenced to death for conspiracy to commit wartime sabotage. "Time" magazine featured Senator Joseph McCarthy on its cover.
The House Un-American Activities Committee was investigating Hollywood in 1952 and over in the Senate, the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, headed by William Jenner of Indiana was looking into the goings-on at the United Nations, and also into public and private schools.
By 9 July 1952, Senator Joseph McCarthy was still at it. Addressing the Republican National Convention, he declared:
"I say one Communist in a defense plant is one too many. One Communist on the faculty of one university is one Communist too many. One Communist among the American advisers at Yalta was one Communist too many. And even if there were only one Communist in the State Department, that would still be one Communist too many."
Three months after the death of Stalin in 1953, the Rosenbergs were executed in the US. Then President Eisenhower refused, two times, to issue an order of executive clemency. In the late 1990s, after the Soviet archives were open to the public, it was revealed that the Rosenbergs were guilty of passing classified information about radar and sonar to their handler, but not atomic secrets.
'Tail Gunner Joe' McCarthy was at it again in February of 1953. He declared that 30,000 books in government overseas libraries were written by 'Communist' authors—Edna Ferber, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., W.H. Auden, Stephen Vincent Benet, Dashiell Hammett—you get the picture. It is always amusing, even today, to read the list of authors and titles on 'banned book lists'.
Edgar R. Murrow featured Senator Joseph McCarthy in his 9 March 1954 broadcast. McCarthy was not shown in the best light. From 22 April 1954 through 17 June 1954, Americans could see Senator McCarthy in action on the television in their home. The live broadcast, televised by ABC, NBC and the Dumont networks, enabled what is known as the Army-McCarthy Hearings open to all. "Point of Order!" was the slogan of the day.
Dan Wakefield in his book "New York in the 50s" tells the story of author Rudolph Wurlitzer who wrote an editorial supporting National Library Week for his Army base newspaper. The authorities took his security clearance away for that.
Fear of the Red Menace, fear of being 'un-American', that's what it was. In the Midwest of my upbringing, it was suspicion of New York, The NY Times, the United Nations, the contents of libraries, the Voice of America, Easterners, commies, lefties, eggheads, faggots and beatniks [plus my favorite—those pointy-headed intellectuals who don't know enough to come in out of the rain].
In 1956 I wrote my second "full" study of a topic of interest. I had these bouts of a fervor to learn specific subjects. In the first series of "full" studies I wrote papers on "Brucellosis in the Cow" and astronomy. The studies were executed during my wanting-to-be-a-veterinarian and moonstruck stage.
My interest in the second study in 1956 is beyond my recall now. I was taken with the idea that the people were rising up against the Communists in Budapest. In Russia, the country was going through a period of de-Stalinization, but this had not taken hold in Eastern Europe. I started collecting information and writing up the history of the Hungarian Revolution. On the 23rd of October 1956, Hungarian citizens revolted against communist rule and those citizens saw their efforts fail on 4 November 1956. Much of the story was caught on camera and broadcast on US television. The vision of tanks was an eye-opener.
Soon, I remember, a Hungarian refugee 'boy' was watching "You Are There" with me in our living room. Lo and behold, if a tank does not come up on the screen, and there is my living room companion right on top of the tank on the television screen.
I take you through these memories to show how being 'obsessed' with a topic is not beyond my capability. It starts young, these things. Perhaps it came from the links and threads of knowledge I found at the public library. You notice that 'the Commies' were present during the Hungarian Revolution; not so sure about Communists being the cause of bloating in a cow belly.
The 4 October Soviet launch of the satellite "Sputnik I" - 'fellow traveler of the Earth'- caused enough uproar for my public high school to get funds for me to be among those attending a Saturday program about nuclear chemistry. We even had radiation-detection devices. On 3 November 1957 a second Sputnik was launched - this time carrying a dog named Laika. The US successfully launched its first satellite, Explorer I, on 31 January 1958.
Another luminary came onto the commie scene - one Fidel Castro. On 2 January 1959, he defeated Battista's forces, arriving in Havana on 7 January 1959.
As the 60s filled me with hope, and the late 1960s and 1970 took the grin off my face, I found myself in the early 1980s with a desire to find out what the Commies were up to. You may recall this was the time when my peers were rolling their "Rs" when they pronounced Nicaragua in that special way, and speaking Spanish. One pronounced Chile as "Chee-Lay," in order to be identified as one in the know.
I found myself wanting to find out for myself what was going on in a small country in the Caribbean, Central America or South America where English was the national language. I wanted to find out if the scourge of Communism in 'our' hemisphere was true.
Introduction to Grenada
Always an armchair Leftist who enjoyed the culture - music and art and writing - surrounding political movements, I was a frequenter of demonstrations. A sunny day found me in Boston at such a demonstration. There I saw a banner - "Grenada Solidarity Committee." I listened to the speaker, looked at the literature and found out about the next meeting.
The time was the early 1980s. The group showed colorful slides of the Spice Island, and discussed the 'experimental' social programs going on under the leadership of Maurice Bishop and the People's Revolutionary Government. When the tragedies struck October 1983 the group increased for a short time, and eventually polarized with strong emotion, and members drifted away.
I delved right in from the beginning, reading everything I could about the Grenada Revolution. Since I was the librarian/collector type, I became the archivist and performed administrative tasks. I would photocopy every original document, return it to the owner and keep the photocopy for my personal collection. I would purchase every book, pamphlet or newspaper related to Grenada.
I was a child of what has been termed 'radical American empiricism' in that I believed that facts could show truth and I need not make any judgment. A questionable point-of-view, my Midwest journalism training taught me working methods of practical objectivity and fairness. Thus my path to obsession on the topic of the Grenada Revolution began.
What were the Commies up to?
I trust the pages that follow will give you some basis to formulate your own opinion regarding the alleged nationalist, democratic, socialist, communist, totalitarian, Marxist-Leninist, Stalin-Castro history-makers of Grenada 1979-1983 - whatever you determine to name it.
The history of the revolutionary period emerges directly out of the period before and during the regime of Eric Matthew Gairy
In Grenada, during the February 1951 strike, Gairy's movement was considered communist.
Former Governor General Paul Scoon, in his book published in 2003 titled "Survival for Service," gives his assessment of Gairy's view of the Jewel and New Jewel Movement:
When in the early 1970's Gairy in and out of Parliament repeatedly branded Bishop and his associates as a bunch of communists, he was scoffed at both home and abroad. Many thought he was over reacting after the fashion of his ultra right wing 'friends' like Somoza of Nicaragua, Duvalier of Haiti and Pinochet of Chile. But Gairy was right, as subsequent events showed and as secret documents later revealed.
When the New Jewel Movement (NJM) emerged, Gairy said, in 1974, they "are tainted by a bit of Communism." By 1978, Gairy was expostulating about NJM being communist in a speech at the United Nations. During the Barclay's Bank strike of 15 December 1978, Gairy accused the Bank and General Workers Union (BGWU) of being led by "a handful of Communists who want to take control of our banking institutions."
Parties of the 'Peoples Alliance,' other than NJM, meaning the Grenada National Party (GNP) and the United Peoples Party (UPP) were also questioning the 'Communism' and anti-religion of the New Jewel Movement.
That's what some people said.
Other people thought differently and formed a revolution.
Human Nature More the Point in a Small Country
As for me, I observe that Maurice Bishop and his associates were and are people like you and me - not easy to define or pinpoint. Communism seems beside the point; at least seems to be at one side of the point. My fear of the unknown spectre of an ideology that could grab me and change my life has diminished.
Leaving the abstraction of Communism behind, in their Spice Isle homeland, Bishop and his associates were and are siblings, spouses, school chums, co-workers, aunts and uncles, parents and grandparents with Bishop being a national hero to many.
AN ASIDE: The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has been part and parcel of the Cold War. Although no hard evidence of CIA involvement in manipulating events in Grenada has emerged after all these years, there is talk and speculation that there were other figures in the carpet. It stands to reason there were elements in Grenada to help the disintegrative process of the People's Revolutionary Government.
My personal fear of Communism as an abstract and evil entity has been replaced by wariness of the negative traits of humankind. How humans can behave is the factor that seems to override my fear of ideology. More worrisome are observations of how humans react when then are fearful. In addition, there is an element of events being shaped by the possibilities of outcomes - not intended, likely or anticipated - faced by people in the march through their time.
I can see . . . only one safe rule for the historian: that he should recognize in the development of human destinies the play of the contingent and the unforeseen.
H. A. L. Fisher (1865-1940), British historian, Liberal politician. History of Europe, Preface (1935).
For an island community as small as Grenada, the traits - positive and negative - of mankind are just around the corner. As long as people believe they are justified by whatever principle, ideology, or belief to ride high on others and cause them grief, we will see tragedies. If human kind uses its principles, ideology, or beliefs for working a harmonious path beneficial for all, progress may follow.
Greed, malice, deceit and the bid for power flowed parallel with consideration, volunteerism, social consciousness and collaborative efforts in Grenada during the time of the People's Revolutionary Government. The end was chaos; people fell victim to the contingencies they met.
There were tragic, lasting, serious and life-changing consequences to actions taken by people during the Grenada Revolution—lives were shattered, people were killed and a country was set way back. Grieving continues to this day.
If one pulls away from the events of the Grenada Revolution, viewing the problems and successes from a distance, the tendency is for matters to look simple, with easy divisions of good and bad. It is only if you were there [or second-best, read the stories of people who were there] that matters become dense, rich, and over-lapped with little room for gross differentiation. In other words, situations aren't easy to explain; in fact, quite complex.
One of the most pathetic things about us human beings is our touching belief that there are times when the truth is not good enough for us; that it can and must be improved upon.
It is the very truth we deny which so tenderly and forgivingly picks up the fragments and puts them together again.
Laurens van der Post, "Venture to the Interior", 1952
Hope, Usefulness and Pride in Grenada
On the other hand, there was the positive spirit with hope and possibility in the air - the nation was rebuilding and national pride took hold like a breath of fresh air leading to the future - FORWARD EVER.
As my Grenadian buddy Horse put it:
"You could say many negative things about the Revo, but one can't deny that the social programs they pushed were very positive; the youths felt important, the older illiterate folks felt needed; we had pride in our country."